Service of Theatre Etiquette

February 6th, 2014

Categories: Consideration, Etiquette, Manners, Theatre

Erica Martell, an avid theatregoer, proposed this topic based on recent experience in two New York theatres.

Sitting behind her in one was a woman with a nylon coat that made noise when she moved. It took her quite some time to settle down even after the show started. The crinkling was distracting–just writing about it makes me grind my teeth–and it began again farther into the show.

In counterpoint to the coat chorus was a five minute period of sorting through her bag to find a candy and then the cacophony of the unwrapping. Erica said she’d had it and made a loud “shush” noise. At intermission a man thanked her for the “shush” as he was equally irritated.

But that wasn’t all. At a critical point in the final act Ms. Infuriating whispered loudly to her seatmate: “What time is it?”

A week or so later at another Broadway show the woman sitting next to her mother texted throughout. Erica didn’t say anything this time. But we spoke about the man in a Florida movie house, about a month ago, who shot someone in the audience for doing just that.

When people tweet about the event they are attending–and are encouraged to do so in some instances–etiquette gets a blow. While the event producers encourage the buzz, they aren’t thinking about others around the person whose tapping on a smartphone or tablet—even the light generated by these devices–bothers neighbors. And what about the speakers confronted with bowed heads? Do you think that everyone is tweeting or posting rave reviews and updates on Facebook? I bet many are responding to texts, checking emails or buying supplies.

I told another friend about Erica’s topic and she shared what happened to her. She had to call over the usher to quiet a couple who were speaking a foreign language nonstop after the curtain went up. She said. “Why would you attend something you didn’t understand?” People attend operas all the time when they don’t understand German or Italian yet they don’t have a pass to speak during a performance even if there aren’t any English subtitles.

Such lack of manners can also spoil concerts, movies and lectures. What causes such breaches of etiquette? Can you share examples and effective solutions?

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8 Responses to “Service of Theatre Etiquette”

  1. Hank Goldman Said:

    Theater etiquette? There is only one rule….. be quiet.

    Well maybe another rule …..don’t move.

    And if someone violates those rules, they may, or not, be shot on sight.
    It may not be legal, but theater shootings have to be understood as possibly, justifiable homicide! I am half joking, and half not joking,…
    Especially at today’s theater prices!

  2. Jeanne Byington Said:


    The cheapest tickets–half price–are in the $70 range. Often two people go, grab a bite, some have parking and babysitter charges on top–yikes.

    In classical music concerts I’ll add something else–don’t conduct if you are sitting in front of me or “sing/hum along.”

    I know you are stretching it by condoning extreme measures to make a point: BE QUIET. Meanwhile, I’ll stick with SHHHHH or calling the usher as those in the post suggest and hope that others may chime in with other suggestions.

  3. Mervyn Kaufman Said:

    I don’t know which is worse—talking and whispering during a theatrical or musical performance or texting. Either is disturbing and disrespectful…but the shushers get even more flack than the wrongdoers. It’s a lose-lose situation. Good manners at the theater began to evaporate when the dress code loosened—I find it appalling to see men and women in worn jeans at the Metropolitan Opera, in the orchestra yet!

  4. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I just thought of something else: People who pull out bottles of water, swallow in mid performance, pass the bottle to their partner who takes a sip, passes it back and then the original parched person closes the top/cap.

    I empathize with a person who suddenly gets a tickle and begins to hack. I often have a Jolly Rancher or some kind of sweet in an accessible spot in my handbag to help them get over a coughing jag. The problem is the noise that accompanies the opening of the wrapper. But you can’t hand an unwrapped sweet to a stranger!

    I suppose the person who shushes is adding to the distraction although I think that a short, serious “shush” can put an end to the wiggling and whispering.

  5. Lucrezia Said:

    At the risk of sounding like a snob, I don’t care for theatre. Operagoers are more considerate, but not always. A man, sitting in the box in front of ours, took to leaning very far out thus hiding much of the stage from view. An appeal to the usher didn’t work, so I stood up, reached over and gave him a sharp tap, and our view was restored for the rest of the performance. While I have yet to be annoyed by a loud and disturbing coat, my reaction would be the same. We pay good money to be entertained, and the consideration due our neighbors works two ways. It’s zero tolerance for any preventable nuisance. No exceptions.

  6. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I’m amazed that the person admonished by the usher paid no attention. Goodness.

    So much of what we cover in these posts and examples point in similar directions and to use your word choice, “think of the neighbors.” The whole idea of etiquette and manners is to help people get along, especially when they live in close proximity, which they certainly do in a packed theatre or auditorium or concert hall or opera house.

  7. JPM Said:

    Last Sunday evening at about 6:30 PM, my wife and I were in the car. Neither of us had much interest in listening to the super bowl, but it seemed unpatriotic not to hear at least the beginning of it.

    We turned the dial, and suddenly there was the fine soprano, Renee Fleming, singing exceptionally well. However, her performance was marred by what seemed like a lot of crowd noise. My wife, annoyed, complained, “You know, audiences are getting ruder and ruder. Why can’t they shut up, and let her sing. She’s great!”

    Then we realized she was singing the “Star Spangled Banner”, and the crowd was singing along with her. Sweet!

  8. Jeanne Byington Said:


    I have nothing to add to your charming anecdote than to note that it gave me a giggle.

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